Preventing Premature Births a Critical Need
Hospitals across the country are providing a special package of services for parents of preemies or preterm infants with the aim to provide them psychological and spiritual support.
A pilot project in this regard was undertaken last year by the Tabriz University of Medical Sciences.
Under the project, conducted between April and September 2016, parents of preemies admitted to state hospitals of Tabriz (East Azarbaijan Province) under the auspices of Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, were provided counseling services as well as emotional support, and were educated and trained on how to care for their babies, and prevention of future similar instances.
Of the nearly 1.5 million babies born annually in the country, more than 120,000 are premature or born before 34 weeks of gestation.
Official figures say that 3% to 5% of babies are hospitalized at NICU (neonatal intensive care units) every year, mainly for preterm birth. About 10% to 15% of extremely preterm babies (28 weeks gestation) lose their lives annually, putting their parents at the risk of psychological and emotional stress.
Mohammad Heidarzadeh, head of the Neonatal Health Office at the Health Ministry, was quoted by IRNA as saying that premature births are a serious health issue and a major source of distress not only for the baby, but for the family as well.
Genetic Testing Mandatory
Scientific evidence supports a genetic predisposition to preterm labor and preterm birth. Genetic risk factors for premature birth may cause life-threatening infections, such as sepsis or meningitis in newborns, especially those born prematurely. Many preterm kids also face a lifetime of disability, including learning disabilities and visual and hearing problems. All these issues impose a huge financial burden on families and the government.
Therefore, genetic testing before marriage has been made mandatory in the next economic, social and cultural development plan (2017-2022).
The Health Ministry has been offering free genetic screening for the high-risk group as of last September. The aim is to reduce the number of premature births and minimize the risk of parents passing on genetic disorders to their children. Getting screened before pregnancy can give prospective couples reassurance that they can have healthy babies, or help them make an informed choice for pregnancy.
Women who have a history of premature deliveries or those experiencing particular symptoms during pregnancy must also be examined at the earliest in order to terminate the pregnancy if necessary.
Parents of premature babies are normally young, aged between 20 and 30, and lack the experience to deal with the emotional and economic distress associated with preterm delivery. A preterm birth or the baby’s arrival weeks or months before the due date, can cause psychological and emotional reaction, including depression.
According to a recent survey by the Neonatal Health Office, more than 70% of mothers of infants admitted to neonatal intensive care units suffer from depression. Most of them feel guilty or low self-esteem for not being able to carry the pregnancy to full term.
Caring for a preemie is a costly procedure. At state-run hospitals, the monthly NICU treatment cost exceeds $1,500-$2,000 per infant. What’s more, not all the babies are admitted by state-run hospitals due to funding constraints.
Family health literacy can play an important role in reducing premature births, but currently the rate is 18%, meaning that only 18 out of 100 Iranian parents know how to live healthy lifestyles.
Healthcare during pregnancy is crucial. A survey by the ministry last year indicated that there is a significant difference between the country’s top 20% wealthiest families and 20% poorest households in this respect. The rate of preterm births is two times more among those at the lower-end of the economic ladder.